Taco Bell Finland pioneers in digital kitchen management
Perhaps the most well-known Mexican-inspired, Californian taco and burrito chains in the world, Taco Bell’s global fame and following is rooted in its customizable food products, as well as in its carefully designed processes and practices. All of these are fully replicated for consistency in its fast-casual franchise restaurants across the world. But what happens when you bravely disrupt the successful, standard ways of running kitchens with a digital kitchen management innovation, Chefstein®?
A nation of Mexican food lovers, Finland welcomed the arrival of Taco Bell in late 2017 with open arms. To ensure a successful launch and growth path, a team of 3 food service professionals at Restel, one of Finland’s largest restaurant operators, set off to the home of Taco Bell in California, US, to learn all about the Taco Bell way of doing things. One of these people was Marko Virtanen, now Head of Operations at Restel-run Taco Bell Finland.
During the 7-week stint at the Taco Bell headquarters, Marko and his colleagues became acquainted with the company’s way of working, the products and restaurant concepts. Central to this are the skillfully designed processes and daily tasks which are carried out systematically in all restaurants every day, based on the chain’s manual.
Pandemic-proof household name
Today, there are 10 Taco Bell restaurants in Finland and growth plans remain unchanged, despite the global pandemic. Many Finns knew the brand from popular culture, which helped with the launch. One of its value-adds is that customers can freely customize their orders at check-out.
Of course, the Covid-19 restrictions have impacted the chain’s operations and even temporarily closed a couple of restaurants. Nevertheless, sales and the customer base continue to grow. Food deliveries have grown exponentially as more people prefer to eat their lunches and dinners at home, and the Taco Bell kind of fast food travels well.
Taking the digital leap towards efficiency, in pioneer style
On an early weekday morning, we met with Marko and Elina Nyyssönen, Restaurant Manager, at Taco Bell Sello, in Espoo, Finland, to learn more about the innovative approach the chain has taken to running its daily operations. This is obviously done based on the universal Taco Bell master manual, executed through a digital implementation. Such a move had not been made anywhere else in the global Taco Bell chain before.
The new approach was quickly designed and ramped up thanks to the digital kitchen management system, Chefstein®, by Fredman. Chefstein® has helped Taco Bell Finland achieve new kinds of efficiencies and delve straight into faster, data-driven business decision-making.
The duo, Marko and Elina, are the kind of passionate hospitality industry professionals that come up with ambitious ideas, who like efficiently and who make things happen, both at the chain and site levels. They both use Chefstein® on a daily basis, for the same and also for different purposes.
Turning a manual process into digital kitchen management
During the planning phase of running Taco Bell in Finland, the Restel team analyzed ways to use technology to help optimize kitchen operations and chain management. The chain manual lists various daily tasks, covering a number of hygiene and food safety checks, self-monitoring routines and all the general commercial kitchen tasks.
Traditionally, each task must be checked off on a daily A4 print-out as it has been completed by a member of kitchen staff. The daily sheets are then stored in a folder for health inspector visits or as and when the status of any given task needs to be revisited.
“Our initial, critical questions included: why take daily temperature measurements of appliances and food manually and write the results on a piece of paper, also manually? Why store those daily papers in a folder when the data can be stored digitally forever?”, Marko explained.
Time savings were obvious from a management point of view as information from any time period could be instantly accessed and analyzed reliably and even presented to health inspectors.
As these questions were answered and various issues addressed, Taco Bell said “goodbye to pen & paper”. Taco Bell kitchens are now managed digitally throughout Finland. Bring it on, Chefstein®!
Efficiency in tasks, food safety and hygiene
Chefstein® helps kitchen staff at all Taco Bell restaurants in Finland make sure that daily kitchen tasks are completed, checked off and stored digitally. There is a mobile device in the kitchen where the Chefstein® app is always on and ready to help its users carry out tasks or view any alerts. The morning set-up includes, for instance, measuring the temperature of cold food items, such as Pico de Gallo salsa. This is done with a handheld bluetooth probe. The result is automatically stored in Chefstein® and can be easily accessed at any time.
All cooling equipment temperatures are measured automatically, 24/7, by Chefstein® temperature sensors attached to each appliance. The readings are stored digitally for trends graphs. Chefstein® instantly alerts the team if any temperature fluctuates beyond set thresholds.
The daily task list also includes surface hygiene measurements. The results of microbiological surface hygiene tests are stored for trends analysis in Chefstein®.
Overcoming language barriers with Chefstein®
Over half of the 180 employees at Taco Bell in Finland are non-Finnish speakers. While there is a remarkably high number of restaurant and food industry professionals that have worked in the team since the beginning, there are also many who start their working life at Taco Bell as seasonal support while studying.
Marko says that staff always come first at Taco Bell. The employee community is “a bit like a family” and there is a strong community spirit. “Everyone has an opportunity to try working in different roles in the kitchen or at the cash register in customer-facing roles. Such an opportunity to try various responsibilities provides valuable experience for future careers to many,“ he continues.
To cater for staff language profiles, Chefstein® lists all daily tasks lists in Finnish but each task includes detailed further information in English. All non-Finnish speakers know where to find such instructions. This helps them complete any task within, for example, ordering, cleaning, hygiene and food safety, delivery inspections or unloading. The carefully designed iconography in Chefstein® gets praise for helping with intuitive non-language navigation within the app.
Kitchen staff vote for digital kitchen management
The daily task list is critical in ensuring that a restaurant looks and feels precisely like the global Taco Bell brand experience, including things that a regular customer won’t notice or ever know about. For instance, cardboard serving boxes are always stacked upside down and various temperature and hygiene checks are carried out in certain ways at certain intervals to ensure failproof food safety.
Elina, who runs the 18-person team at Sello Taco Bell, doesn’t question the benefits of digital kitchen management and speaks on behalf of staff in the matter.
“Everyone prefers to do the task list and measurements digitally. We had to go back to paper once when one of the measurement probes broke and we all found this really annoying”, she said and continued: “Chefstein® saves time and work and, for example, nobody needs to even think about where to place or find a measurement station, everyone knows where to do it.”
Next-level chain management with digital kitchen management
From a chain management angle, the benefits of going digital with Chefstein® are remarkable. Reporting, analysis and keeping up with trends and issues at the level of an individual restaurant as well as the entire chain are life-changing for the Head of Operations.
“I only have to look at a one-page report for accurate and 100% reliable information as opposed to having to go through pieces of paper to look for information which may even be inconsistent. I can immediately spot anomalies as they glare at me in the reports, without having to spend time to look for them or count the number of exceptions manually,” describes Marko.
In practical terms, Marko no longer needs to visit the several restaurants as often as the Chefstein® dashboards instantly provide information that helps him spot issues and think about ways to fix these proactively with the onsite team, no matter where he is.
A very practical example is that if there are trends related to the way certain tasks are performed, Marko can discuss potential training needs or the clarity of instructions with the restaurant manager to overcome potential challenges in an anticipatory manner. Updates to instructions or entire processes are done easily through the Chefstein® platform, eliminating the need to prepare and circulate PDFs to replace daily task sheets at each restaurant.
It goes without saying that business reports to Restel management include more insight and trends, based on reliable long-term data from operations to sales and customer behavior. Informed business decisions are easier and faster to make, to ensure future success for Taco Bell Finland.
Taking the brave step to perform a carefully designed, globally implemented process in a new, innovative way by going digital Chefstein®, certainly seems to have paid off at Taco Bell Finland. The approach seems to be driven by passion and drive to optimize the entire business, starting from the way an individual restaurant and team operates to the way the chain can quickly react to trends spotted internally (but 100% reliably) in customer preferences.
The strong community spirit at Taco Bell Finland will undoubtedly make such optimizations a team effort where everyone feels they can contribute. Long and high may the pioneer spirit fly!